Thursday, May 20, 2021

Sheba Karim Interview - The Marvelous Mirza Girls

Photo Content from Sheba Karim

Sheba Karim’s next novel, The Marvelous Mirza Girls, is out May 18th, 2021. She is the author of the YA novels Skunk Girl, That Thing We Call a Heart, which made several Best Book lists including Bank Street and Kirkus, and Mariam Sharma Hits the Road, which was named a NPR Best Book of the Year. Her fiction and essays have been featured in 580 Split, Asia Literary Review, Femina, India Today, Literary Hub, Off Assignment, Shenandoah, South Asian Review, The Rumpus, Time Out Delhi and in several anthologies in the United States and India. She has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University.


Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Humans are hardwired for narrative, and stories have always been how we make sense of the world around us. Without stories, we would be adrift. Stories are a coping mechanism, a medium for connection, a quest for beauty, a way to God, an instinctive form of communication, a claim to power. They are inherent to our way of being in the world, to the point where we often take narrative for granted.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The most personally rewarding experience is hearing from readers who have connected with your book, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Tell us your latest news.
My book, The Marvelous Mirza Girls, releases May 18th! I’m also very excited about the book trailer and accompanying book track, which will be released the same date.

Greatest thing you learned at school?
How to make friends for life.

Can you tell us when you started THE MARVELOUS MIRZA GIRLS, how that came about?
I started writing it in 2017. I knew I wanted to write a coming of age novel set in Delhi, a city that is both remarkable and complicated (and, as I write this, suffering from a disastrous Covid second wave), and explore the synergy that can happen when you’re falling in love with someone and while also falling in love with a place.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope that they think about the meaning of love and kindness, about feminism and free speech, about how we can love a place (or a person, for that matter) but also be clear-eyed about its flaws. I’d also hope they reflect about the importance of laughter and human connection, and, if they haven’t been to Delhi, feel like they captured a sense of the place through the book.

For those who are unfamiliar with Noreen, how would you introduce her?
Noreen is a graduating senior who feels stuck, still grieving the loss of her aunt, unable to perform the art that feeds her, which is writing. She’s not excited about college the way she thinks she should be, and when her mother gets an opportunity to move to Delhi temporarily Noreen thinks going with her could be the answer to all her problems. In Delhi, she falls in love with kind Kabir, who’s stuck in his own ways, and this love proves healing for both of them. She realizes that, ultimately, though environment makes a difference, the answers to your problems lie within your own heart.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d introduce Farah from That Thing We Call a Heart to Noreen—they’re both so funny they’d have a ball.

Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
I’ve read a review or two that has pointed out a connection in my work that I hadn’t seen myself, (at least consciously). I have read thoughtful reviews of my work where the reviewer has made a good point or two about some aspect that could have been better. No book is perfect; writing is an ongoing process of experimentation and learning.

Hard to choose only ten! Here are some books I loved, in no particular order:
  • 1) Homeland Elegies - Ayad Akhtar
  • 2) A People’s History of Heaven – Mathangi Subramanium
  • 3) Sightseeing – Rattawut Lapcharoensap
  • 4) Electric Kingdom – David Arnold
  • 5) The Bad Muslim Discount – Syed M. Masood
  • 6) American Betiya – Anuradha Rajurkar
  • 7) The Secret Lives of Church Ladies – Deesha Philyaw
  • 8) Craft in the Real World – Matthew Salesses
  • 9) Eyes that Kiss in the Corners - Joanna Ho
  • 10) We Are Never Meeting in Real Life – Samantha Irby
The novel opens with Noreen’s graduation. Initially, this was a much longer scene, but I decided to cut a lot of it during the revision process. Initially, Noreen stayed through most of her graduation but in the final version she run from it (literally) soon after a ceremony. Here’s a deleted scene from the graduation:
          Noreen managed to keep it together for most of high school graduation. She’d become participating and nodding like she was interested and present, like her heart and world weren’t fundamentally broken. After Ryder Chae’s rousing valedictorian speech about how in order to save the world girls must rise to rule it, she clapped so hard her palms stung. When the reception began, Principal Leigh interrupted the Kenny G. song to request that all alumni mothers and daughters should gather for a photograph.

          “Man, when I graduated from here I never thought I’d be back,” Noreen’s mother Ruby said. “Funny where life takes you. How are you holding up?”

          “It feels weird, not to have her here,” Noreen said. Her mother placed one hand on the small of her back and gently guided her toward the photographer.

          The suited and chiseled photographer had them pose around the plaque which read This Elm Tree Was Donated by the Class of 1959. An odd choice, given that the elm tree it commemorated had been uprooted a few years ago after developing an incurable disease. An eco-warrior sophomore had organized a farewell ceremony where they laid flowers at its trunk and recited poetry in a circle. Noreen and her best friend Abby had poked fun of it in their zine. Now she wished they hadn’t. There was a reason she hadn’t shown that issue to her beloved aunt Sonia Khala, for whom every living thing was sacred, who should have been here, in a bright dress that was no match for the brightness of her eyes, hugging her and saying mash’allah mash’allah.

          “Isn’t this the tree that died?” Ruby whispered.


          “Well, this is morbid.”

          “Say, ‘Family tradition!’” the photographer called out.

          There were five other mother-daughter pairs in the group, and afterwards Darcy’s mother Suzie, who was an alum like Ruby and used to make fun of Ruby’s mustache when they were in middle school, walked over to them. “Ruby, is that man with you your new beau?”

          Adi Uncle appeared as though on cue, balancing two punch glasses and a plate of canapĂ©s. “That photographer is yum,” he said.

          Suzie slid her large diamond ankh pendant back and forth along its gold chain. “Oh,” she said.

          “Suzie, this is my best friend Adi,” Ruby said.

          “CanapĂ©?” Adi Uncle offered.

          “No thank you, I don’t do carbs after 12 pm,” Suzie said. “You know, I always wanted a gay best friend. I loved Will and Grace—the first one, not the remake.”

          “They have an app now where you can rent one for the day,” Adi Uncle said, deadpan. “You can go shopping together, have a boozy lunch, catch a musical.”

          “Really?” Suzie said as Ruby and Noreen swallowed their laughter. “They have an app for everything now. Well, I’ll let you all celebrate. We should get a drink sometime, Ruby.”

          “Definitely,” Ruby said.

          “How are you holding up?” Adi Uncle asked Noreen.

          Noreen couldn’t answer because whoever was DJ had put on a new song.
What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
Writing! It’s usually at this time I get idea either about the project I’m working on or future projects I hope to write—bits of dialogue, a paragraph, a plot point. It’s a particularly fruitful time for my imagination; the challenge being that because I’m almost asleep I often don’t turn on the light to write it down, and my morning recall is rarely 100%.

Best date you've ever had?
Leaving a letter for the jinn at Firoz Shah Kotla, a 14th century medieval ruin in Delhi that people believe is inhabited by jinn. This is also the most intense date I ever had, and is the inspiration for Noreen and Kabir’s first date in the book.

What is the first job you have had?
I was a camp counselor for at a summer camp for elementary aged kids.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I’d have to say the 90’s, which was when I was a teenager, because it’s what I know. To imagine myself a teen in any other decade would be to imagine a completely different person.

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
I almost died riding on the back of a scooter in Delhi, which was terrifying. I remember thinking in the moment, “This can’t be how I’m going to die.” Thankfully, I survived.

What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
We used to travel a fair amount as a family, but the global pandemic changed all that. So now the mere idea of a trip abroad with my husband and kids seems like an incredible (and somewhat anxiety-inducing) adventure.

First Heartbreak?
My official first heartbreak was a boy I had a crush on in middle school asking me to dance (I was elated) and then telling me he was just joking.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Having a kid (now two kids). It changes the your ability to structure your time, your sleep patterns, your idea of yourself. At any given moment, some portion of my brain is occupied with child-related matters, plans and reminders and hopes and fears and regrets and worry and excitement. It’s a rollercoaster every single day.

Where can readers find you?
My WEBSITE, where they can find info about me and my books and sign up for my author newsletter. I’m on Instagram and Twitter under shebakarim as well.

To cure her post–senior year slump, made worse by the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen is ready to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi, hoping India can lessen her grief and bring her voice back.

In the world’s most polluted city, Noreen soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With Kabir’s help—plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints—Noreen begins to rediscover her joyful voice.

But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complicated questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone—and what are the boundaries of love?

You can purchase The Marvelous Mirza Girls at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SHEBA KARIM for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim.